• SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: Sebastian Vettel (2nd left) of Germany and Red Bull Racing leads from Jenson Button (left) of Great Britain and McLaren towards the first corner at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2011 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
  • Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, center, leads the field into Turn One at the first lap during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, central Japan, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing leads from Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren and Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2011 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
  • Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany leads the field into a corner at the first lap of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, central Japan, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren drives during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2011 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing locks up as he drives on his way finishing third to secure his second F1 World Drivers Championship during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2011 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
  • Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany steers his car during the Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, Japan on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing celebrates in front of team mates after finishing third to secure his second F1 World Drivers Championship during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2011 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
  • Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany celebrates in front of team members after finishing third in the Japanese Grand Prix to clinch the Formula One drivers championship, at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, Japan on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing celebrates with team mates in the pitlane after finishing third to secure his second F1 World Drivers Championship during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2011 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme after finishing third to secure his second F1 World Drivers Championship during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2011 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
  • El alem�n Sebastian Vettel, de la escuder�a Red Bull, besa su trofeo despu�s de ganar el bicampeonato de la F�rmula Uno, en Suzuka, Jap�n, el domingo 9 de octubre de 2011. (Foto AP/Eugene Hoshiko)
  • Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, right, waves with McLaren driver Jenson Button of Britain, center, and Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain on the podium after the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, central Japan, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011. Vettel finished third in the race to clinch the Formula One drivers championship. Button won the Japanese Grand Prix and Alonso finished second. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
  • Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, center, celebrates with champagne with McLaren driver Jenson Button of Britain, right, and Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain on the podium after the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, central Japan, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011. Vettel finished third in the race to clinch the Formula One drivers championship. Button won the Japanese Grand Prix and Alonso finished second. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
  • McLaren driver Jenson Button of Britain celebrates with his girlfriend Jessica Michibata after winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, central Japan, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)
  • Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain, left, McLaren driver Jenson Button of Britain , center, and Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, right, attend the press conference after the Japan Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, Japan on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
If one trend could sum up the 2011 Formula One World Championship so far, it would surely be the domination of Sebastian Vettel. The reigning champion has put up an unsurpassed fight to defend his title, claiming pole position eleven out of fourteen races so far this season, and turning them into nine checkered flags. In fact, Vettel has finished on the podium at every grand prix this season but one, having finished fourth at his home race in Germany.

On the home stretch of such a dominant campaign, and with five races still to go before the end of the season, Vettel's lead had grown so insurmountable as to have practically crowned him World Champion already. Almost, anyway, as just one point would be all he'd need to lock up the title in Japan. And if Jenson Button – his closest rival – would not win the race, Vettel wouldn't even need that point. It was pretty much a given, then, that Vettel would claim the title for the second year running. But his rivals wouldn't make it easy for him. Follow the jump to read how it went down.
Saturday's qualifying once again set the stage here at Suzuka, with Vettel taking pole position once more. Beside him, though, lined up Jenson Button, the one driver who could postpone the inevitable, having set his time less than one hundredth of a second behind Vettel's. Hamilton qualified third after a Q3 mishap, followed by Massa and Alonso, Webber, Schumacher, Senna, Petrov and Kobayashi to round out the top ten. Nico Rosberg, having failed to make it to qualifying, started near the back of the grid in 23rd place.



Vettel showed no sign of easing into his title when he nearly punted Button off the track from the starting line. The incident was investigated by the race stewards but no penalty was given. That left Button in third behind his teammate Hamilton, who followed Vettel around the opening laps in what was a race start otherwise largely without incident.

The first round of pit stops came at lap 9 on a track that is particularly hard on tires. Aside from a close-fought battle towards the middle of the pack between Maldonado, Alguersuari and Kobayashi (who suffered a dismal start) for 13th position, little transpired until the second round of pit stops came around lap 20.

Vettel and Webber headed in to the Red Bull pit box in tandem, but while the crew dispatched them in quick succession, it wasn't quick enough: Button pitted soon after and rejoined to take the lead from Vettel.

Massa and Hamilton played out their animosity once again around lap 22 as the two had a minor collision in the chicane, spreading debris that saw the safety car deployed for three laps. This incident, too, was investigated, but no penalty was meted out.



Sutil and Rosberg had closed in on Petrov in tenth place around lap 30, but both managed to get by – Sutil in impressive style around the outside into turn 1.

With just eight seconds covering the top six places, Vettel pitted from second place to rejoin way down in eleventh, forcing him to fight his way back up the field through frustratingly heavy traffic. After Button followed for his third stop, he rejoined in third, well ahead of Vettel. Alonso then pitted from the lead and passed Vettel, too. The defending champion chased Alonso but couldn't get by as the Ferrari closed the gap on Button in the lead.

Across the line, Button took the checkered flag, which would have been enough to postpone Vettel's coronation had the German not come in third place behind Alonso, who took his eighth podium of the season. And so Button hoisted the first-place trophy as Vettel claimed his second consecutive World Championship. With that, Vettel becomes the youngest multiple World Champion in F1 history, adding that accolade to a resume that has already seen him become youngest World Champion, youngest runner-up, race leader, points scorer, podium finisher, pole sitter and race winner in the history of the sport.




And so we sail from Japan to South Korea, for the sixteenth of nineteen races on the calendar, with the Championship already decided. But with Button, Alonso and Webber close together in the standings with 210, 202 and 194 points, respectively, who will emerge as runner-up by season's end? Join us in one week's time as the battle continues.

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